University Business - March 2010 - (Page 24)

HUMAN RESOURCES Mediating Employee Disputes When to intervene and how best to help employees work through issues By Carol Patton S EVERAL YEARS AGO, THERE were two secretaries at Jacksonville State University (Ala.) who worked in different departments. Neither got along with their boss. eir supervisors wanted to fire them but couldn’t—as nothing was wrong with their job performance. e problem was simple: ey just didn’t like each other. So human resources got a call, recalls Judy Harrison, assistant director of HR. “We just ended up switching [the secretaries’] positions,” she says. “ e personalities fit so much better and everyone was happy. So sometimes, there are simple, inexpensive things [HR] can do.” Employee clashes happen everywhere. An employee may feel a boss is insensitive or a peer is too chatty, or may dislike a faculty member’s work style. If not handled properly, some disagreements can escalate to violence. We all know about the Harvard-trained neurobiologist who was an assistant professor at the University of Alabama. Last month she gunned down three colleagues and injured three others during a faculty meeting, possibly because she was denied tenure. While no school can be 100 percent bullet proof, many aren’t sitting targets because they’ve developed effective programs or processes that not only help resolve workplace tensions, but also build workplace harmony, enhance productivity, and secure the safety of their employees. Take JSU, which supports roughly 1,000 employees and faculty. While HR promotes an open-door policy, its team generally watches from afar, only stepping in when requested, says HR Director Karen Davis. “Every once in a while we’re and how others may interpret their actions or behaviors. MONITORING A SITUATION Still, there’s no magic recipe for eliminating personality conflicts. All are valid, no matter how ridiculous they seem, like the time an employee was jealous of a coworker’s flex schedule and began acting inappropriately toward that coworker. Debi Alvord, associate director of HR and employee relations manager at Boise State University (Idaho), says a garden variety of complaints come across HR’s desk, such as the one cited above. e school supports 2,000 employees and 19,000 students. “We’ve had situations where employees can take a class during the workday and make up the time,” she says. “But some employees in the same department [who have a different supervisor] may not be allowed to do that because their supervisor doesn’t allow it. It can create some tension.” HR has to minimize the damage so problems don’t escalate, lower productivity or create a hostile environment. You never know when a seemingly insignificant spat can turn violent. To control and monitor such situations, HR at BSU offers free assistance in three ways: mediation, facilitation, and coaching. Mediation services are separate from BSU’s employee assistance program (EAP). Mediators are trained employees, who completed a voluntary, weeklong certification program offered by the school in Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer who specializes in covering HR issues. Problems are usually identified and resolved within a several-hour meeting. dysfunctional, but we are a family. We try to follow the spirit of the grievance policy in that we give both sides an opportunity to air their concerns and try to find some middle ground or compromise that would be suitable to both.” Sometimes, policy misunderstandings cause problems—such as the time an employee at JSU complained to HR about his supervisor, who “strongly implied” that he had to go out to lunch with his coworkers almost every day and attend after-hours social activities. e employee didn’t want to participate because he had family obligations after work and couldn’t afford to repeatedly dine out. Yet, the supervisor practically insisted, making him feel uncomfortable. Once HR explained to the supervisor that employees couldn’t be forced to participate in after-hours activities, the problem virtually disappeared. In nearly every situation, Davis says, employees tend to resolve their own problems once HR helps them understand their boundaries, each other’s viewpoint, 24 | March 2010

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of University Business - March 2010

University Business - March 2010
Editor’s Note
College Index
Company Index
Advisory Board
Behind the News
Sense of Place
Financial Aid
Human Resources
Money Matters
Community Colleges as Economic Saviors
Web Content Needs - Solved
Paths to the Presidency
What’s New
End Note

University Business - March 2010